Category Archives: Novels

WRITING A PREQUEL – SHOULD I OR SHOULDN’T I? PART TWO

I received many comments on the last post regarding prequels and back-story. Many authors express the belief that prequels tend to be an author’s saved up back-story. If that is the case, it is unlikely that a compelling prequel will follow. There is a quite a bit to consider as we discuss prequels.

THE BACK-STORY ON BACK-STORY

As the authors, we know what happened before our published work; where our characters came from, what makes them do the things they do, why this one is afraid of the dark or that one has an aversion to apples…we created these personality quirks and the reasons behind them. A prequel does not have to be the “why” of the already published work. Honestly, just because one reader wants to know why John Doe flinches every time the doorbell rings, does not meant that EVERY reader wants to know the story behind that quirk. We need to ask ourselves, is our story idea compelling enough to interest a reader in spending his or her hard earned cash on a book? A prequel should be a standalone story that just happens to be inhabited by one or two (or maybe all) of the characters from our current novel. It’s not there to explain the entire back story; it can, however, support character traits or give deeper insight into certain characters. So what’s all the fuss about prequels?

THE PROBLEM OF THE CART COMING BEFORE THE HORSE

Problem number one, as I see it, is the story map. We have a perfectly good published novel with a sequence of events that is set in stone. Now, here we are later, writing a novel that leads up to that sequence of events – we have to make sure we don’t contradict ourselves or send our characters so way off the beaten path that it’s just not a plausible story to bring them back. The sequence of events in the prequel must logically lead up to the sequence of events in the published work, even if the prequel takes place many years earlier when the main character is just a child (or in the case of Star Wars, before the main characters are born). For example, if in the already published story, our main character mentions that she lost her parents in a fire when she was 20, we can’t possibly have her ask her mother for advice in a prequel that takes place when she is 25. The story map must be consistent and lead the main characters to the path of the already published novel, or at least to a path that the readers can believe will put them upon the path they will travel in the published novel.

CHECK YOUR FACTS MA’AM

Facts must be checked and double checked; even the most seemingly innocuous comment made by a minor character in the first book must coordinate with the storyline in the prequel. If there is an inconsistency in even the minutest detail, we can be sure that a reader will notice it and it will become a thorn in that reader’s side. Every character counts; we need to make sure a minor character doesn’t push a main character off track. If the story line of the prequel is gleaned from an event the main character mentions in the published work, we need to make sure that any character mentioned in the existing work now exists in the prequel. For example, if our MC mentioned in passing that she had a college roommate named Donna at the time her parents perished in that fire and our story takes place during that time frame, we need to make sure Donna exists. No Donna – no continuity. Worse yet, we need to make sure we don’t call the MC’s roommate Rachel. Check the facts, check the facts, check the facts! Did I mention we need to check the facts?

DON’T TOUCH THAT ROCK!

As authors we must make sure that nothing in our prequel negates the novels that are already published—character traits and motivation must be consistent. However, in my opinion, in order to be a successful prequel, the story should be about our characters at an earlier time– a separate stand alone story that will captivate readers not just a pre-shadow of our other novels. When we are writing a prequel, we need to travel back and forth between the published work and the work in progress; making sure that the events occurring in the prequel do not deter the events of the already published work. Some may liken this to time travel stories where the characters are warned to not alter anything in the past because one little stone out of place can set a chain of events that changes the already established present and future. There is a lot of backtracking and double checking to be done when attempting a prequel; the webs must be woven carefully and delicately in order to create a consistent and believable storyline.

What other issues stand out when you think about prequels?

WRITING A PREQUEL – SHOULD I OR SHOULDN’T I?

WHY, OH WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO WRITE A PREQUEL AND WHY IS HOLLYWOOD NOW LOOKING FOR COMPELLING PREQUELS?

Prequels have been dealt a bad hand. For many writers, they are considered taboo – bad luck, the death of your series; other writers calmly advise avoiding them when possible. So what’s the “plague of the prequel” all about? For one thing, they can be boring filler if we are not careful; who wants to read something that is just background fluff about our characters? Prequels can throw our entire published series off track; if the actions of the characters don’t lead them to the path they are on at the beginning of our already published novel, then the already existing novel won’t make any sense. Prequels can render our already established characters unbelievable. Now that I have completely discouraged the writing of prequels, here’s a good reason to write one: the readers want one; they want to know what happened before our novel took place. Our readers are curious as to WHY our main character behaves the way s/he does; they want to know more about her/him; where s/he came from; who s/he is; what her/his life was like before the book they just read. If our characters are compelling enough and we are very, very careful, we can create a prequel that will knock our readers’ socks off.  So how careful should we be and what should we be so careful of?

USE THE FORCE, BUT DON’T FORCE IT

Since hearing from my readers that they want to know more about my characters lives before my first novel, Webs of Power, I felt compelled to write a prequel; but I was also determined to avoid dumping a boatload of back-story on them. I wanted to know all the pros and cons of writing a prequel so I did a little research online.  I have never read so much about Star Wars in my life! It seems the inconsistencies in the back-story are a huge disappointment to the fans; apparently Star Wars fans are extremely knowledgeable about the characters in the series and the inconsistencies they found in the characters and in the stories of the three prequels are a huge source of distress and complaint. Now granted, I am talking about a movie here, but the issues movie prequels face are closely related to the issues book prequels face:

  1. The sequence of events must logically lead from the prequel to the established story and must be consistent with the already established story
  2. The characters must stay true to who they are to become
  3. The audience already knows where the character is going to end up, so the prequel not only needs to lead to this path, it has to make the journey interesting in itself

I want to address each of these issues separately, so the next several blogs will deal with the issues of writing a prequel as I see them.

 

What do you see as the problem with prequels?

 

Life Gets in the Way – How committed are you to your writing?

Commitment unlocks the doors of imagination, allows vision, and gives us the “right stuff” to turn our dreams into reality.” ~ James Womack

 

Are you committed to your writing? I saw a post recently that asked what the difference was between a writer and someone who writes. It got me thinking about my commitment to my craft and how things may have been different for me if I had not had the ability to commit to my writing. Not everyone has the luxury of retirement and grown children, but making time to write is the only way to actually become a writer. It may not get us published, but nobody said that writing was the end of the story, either. The point is, if we want to be writers, then we must write; sitting at home thinking about writing, driving the kids to school thinking about writing; wishing we were home writing instead of sweating at our child’s soccer game – none of that will  make us writers.  The only way to be a writer – is to write.

Carving out time for writing is one of the most difficult parts of being a writer. If we wait for the muse to visit us, it becomes even harder to find time to write. That brings up another point: “finding time”; if we have to find it, we never will. We need to make the time to write. I’ve blogged about this before; it’s not something that can be put off for when we find the time. We have to be committed to it and schedule it like any other appointment we have. Do we find time to go to the doctor? Yes, we do. Do we find time to go to the dentist? Yes. Our writing time needs to be placed in a position of extreme importance and there are so many of us who don’t place it there. Life gets in the way – it does; but if we are committed to our writing, once life calms down, we go back to it.

There are so many of us out there who dream of writing; who want it so badly it’s all they think about. There’s the problem right there. We dream, we think, we contemplate…we should be writing. Writers write – there’s no two ways about it. If we are dreaming…we are dreamers. If we are writing…we are writers. It’s really that simple. Take this quote from Mario Andretti:

Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal – a commitment to excellence – that will enable you to attain the success you seek.

We can WANT to write, but unless we are determined to write, committed to writing, we will not find the success we are reaching for. I had a conversation with a friend the other day about an article on a group of Harvard students who wrote down their long term goals and reread them every day vs. a group of Harvard students who just thought of their goals, but didn’t record them or revisit them. Amazingly, a vast majority of the students who reread their goal list reached their goals, while the majority of the students who didn’t revisit their list daily, were still wandering around wondering what to do with their lives. Interesting, isn’t it? Just rereading what they wanted helped them commit to the path they needed to follow in order to pursue their dreams. They were committed to their dreams; they followed the path towards their goals and they committed to that path. What does that say about commitment? If we commit to our writing, to being writers, will that make the goal more attainable? Well, I can say that if we don’t commit to it, we will most likely be wandering around years from now saying: what if? What if I had taken the time to follow my dream?  Yes, life does get in the way sometimes; it can’t be helped. But a life without reaching for our dreams is not much of a life at all – it’s an existence. Why just exist when we can reach for the stars?

How do you commit to your writing?

Author Book Fairs – A Behind the Scenes Look

I love book fairs. I attend them not just as an author, but as a reader as well. There is nothing like getting to walk around a bookstore and meet the authors who write the books we love. They have their tables set up with their books and other give-aways on it; they talk to their fans, old and new.  There are talks from several different authors in several different genres. What’s not to love? Walk in, meet the authors, hear some interesting stories, buy a book or two and go home; simple as can be, right? Well, for the fans, yes.

There is a lot that goes into setting up an event like this. My friend and assistant Kathy Porter is the co-chair of the Author Fair I am attending next weekend. Through her, my eyes have been opened to the tremendous amount of work that goes into putting on an event such as this. I thought it was time to give Kathy and others who do this work their due and to let them know how much we appreciate them.

The event is being organized through the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society (GLAWS) and is being hosted by Barnes and Noble on July 23rd and 24th. Before anything else could be done to start planning, the first thing Kathy had to do was find a venue. She contacted Barnes and Noble; for this event she spoke with the Barnes and Noble in Marina Pacifica in Long Beach, California. She chose this venue because of the location and the openness of the meeting area which will allow enough room for all the fans we are hoping will join us.  Once Barnes and Noble agreed to host the event, GLAWS put out a call for authors.

There are certain qualifications for author participation in this event, and Kathy had the tough job of having to gently explain to several talented authors that they were not able to be featured.  In order to qualify for this event an author had to have books available through Baker &Taylor and also through Ingram, the books needed to be returnable and they needed to have enough books in the system to order (usually about 20 books). Out of the 41 authors who wished to participate, only 20 met the qualifications set by the store.

Kathy had to attend meetings with the bookstore to work out how many authors the store could support per day, the event room scheduling and seating as well as the food and drink to be available.  There were a lot of details to attend to such as where chairs should be placed, where microphones needed to be placed and which food and drinks would be free and which would be sold. The author schedule consisted of making sure each author was allotted 5-7 minutes in the event room to speak on his or her subject or to read an excerpt from his or her book(s). Along with that there was also the issue of author table placement in the store; each author’s table being placed according to genre and as close to the area in the store where his or her genre is housed as possible.

Once the authors had been chosen and informed of their ability to participate,  Kathy set out to help them learn how to set up their tables and sell their books; she also had to set expectations for mode of dress, manning the tables, what to bring and how to engage readers in conversation. She held a class for the authors to help get everyone comfortable with what was expected of them and how to best represent themselves and their work to their readers. She also needed to collect from each author their ISBN, title(s) of their work, their names or pen names, a biography, a head shot and a book description – all of which was used in the flyer she made to promote the event and the websites that are promoting the event. To see the websites click here: Greater Los Angeles Writers Society Author Fair and Barnes and Noble Event – GLAWS Author Fair.

Planning an event such as this is no small task and I just want to take this opportunity to thank Kathy, Gillian, others who plan events such as this. You should know how much the authors appreciate you and the opportunity you are giving us to meet and greet our fans and cultivate new fans and friends.  It takes months of hard work to pull off an event like this. Thank you for giving us your time and your skills.

~Darlene Quinn

 

Where, oh Where Are Our Readers? The search for the elusive audience

Being a writer isn’t a path most of us choose consciously; it’s just who we are. We are storytellers, researchers, teachers, searchers, learners and so much more. To some, writing is a way to impart wisdom learned from years of living. To some writing is a way of finding out who we are and where we belong. To some writing is a way to heal a past or deal with the present; to purge emotional pain or align our thought processes. Writing is so many different things to so many people; but there is one thing all writers have in common – we want readers.

Readers are the foundation of a writer’s life. They are the sky we are reaching for; the most important ingredient in our author stews. So where do we find them? Where are they hiding? How do we attract them to our work; get them to read our novel, story, poem, or article? Some of us start with our friends and family; some of us search out an agent or publisher to find readers for us; some of us look online to our connections on social sites. None of these strategies is wrong, but none of them are enough either. So what is a writer to do? Where are the elusive readers of our dreams?

Finding readers has a lot to do with our purpose for writing. Why did we write our novel, story, article or poem? Was it for a sense of self? Perhaps it was to see our names on the best seller list? Was it for the thrill of seeing our book on the library or bookstore shelf? Whatever the reason, without readers our blood, sweat and tears lies stagnant on the shelf. We write for a reason; we have a target audience in mind when we write. If we write for young adults, then our target audience is teenagers; if we write fantasy or science fiction, then that is our target audience. If we figure out who we are writing for and our reason for writing this particular story, then we can figure out where to find our readers.

If we use social sites to reach readers, it is fairly easy to find our audience. Just look in the groups on Facebook alone and we can find people who have something in common with our story; someone who will enjoy what we have written and be interested in the information we want to impart. The hard part is making sure we don’t overstep the boundaries of friendship when we offer our work on these sites. The hard sell doesn’t work; pushing our work in readers’ faces is never a good idea. Our readers are our friends, or at least our future friends. We need to let them know we exist; we need to let them know our work exists; but after that it is in their hands. Readers make their own decisions as to what they want to read and which authors they want to offer their loyalty to. We have to respect that they have that choice.

Word of mouth is a very strong current. It can carry a novel on its tide and bring a wave of readers to our shores; but if we try to control the current, we may find that it is stronger than we think and can sweep our novel out into a vast sea of nothingness. With the advent of ePublishing, the sea is getting bigger and deeper and our novels are one of millions of novels floating around.  We can take two paths here; we can trust that the reader will be the fisherman and our novel will happen to get caught on their hooks and hauled aboard to be devoured; or we can be the fishermen, dangling our bait for hungry readers. One path is passive, the other is more aggressive. Some might say that equating our readers to hungry fish is demeaning; but truth be told, aren’t most readers looking for something in our books that will hook them? The first line of a novel is called a hook; why not use it?

We are all vying for readers; to get the attention of someone who will love our work so much they will recommend us to other readers.  Do we really want to be passive here? Dangle the bait; attract one reader and more will hopefully follow. We just need to make sure to use the right bait – good content. If the bait is hard to swallow, the fish won’t recommend it to other fish and our hooks will remain empty. If our bait is delicious and decadent, the fish will swim out to other fish and let them know where the best hook in the sea is.

Times have changed and it is no longer enough to just write a good story.  The days of staying home and writing and letting others take care of the marketing are over. We need to go out into the sea of readers and find our school of fish; let them know where the best bait in town is and dangle the hook in front of them.  Let them take the bait; then it’s up to them to decide if they want to share it or not. We can’t control the current, but we can tempt the fish.

Writers, where do you find readers and how do you hook them? Readers, what hooks you?

The Fate of Webs of Fate – Waiting for Reader Reviews

Many of you may have noticed requests for reviewers for my upcoming novel, Webs of Fate. The response has been phenomenal. My thanks go out to all of you who have joined our team. We now have reviewers across the US and Canada, even some out of the country who are reviewing the PDF file. They include Gibraltar, England, Australia, and Paris.  The Advanced Readers Copies have been shipped to the reviewers that have already come aboard, and now I wait to see how this novel will be received.

Patience may be a virtue, but  is often nerve wracking. While I am not pacing a worn paths in the carpet or experiencing sleepless nights, like most of us I have a certain degree of insecurity. The fact that Webs of Power and Twisted Webs have been winners of the Indie National Excellence Awards and finalists in the USA National Best Books and Twisted Webs was recently named winner of the 2011 International Book Award for fiction and literature was thrilling, but it has raised the bar since I strive to make each novel better than the one before. The big question is have I met that goal?

I have yet to meet an author, even a famous one, who did not admit to occasional bouts of insecurity.  It is human nature to be concerned with how others view us, and let’s face it; our work is a part of us. It is our heart, our soul, our very being which we pour out onto paper and then parade out for others to assess. As authors it is our job to drop the filters and write from the heart; to give our readers a glimpse into the inner workings of our minds and imaginations. Few other jobs have this requirement. And yet as authors, we ask for reviews, knowing we must reach our intended reader. For non-fiction the contentmust fill the needs of the intended readers. In the case of novels, the key element is story. Have we reached our readers? Have we touched their hearts? Have we kept them turning the pages? And most of all have we provided entertainment?

No matter how good we think our work may be, it can always be better. There is a small, lingering doubt that maybe; just maybe it is not good enough. When Webs of Power won its first award, I was pleasantly surprised–most award winning books I have found to be somewhat dark–mine are not.. When I put Twisted Webs out for reviews, I worried that it wouldn’t live up to Webs of Power.  Now it’s time to see if my reviewers feel that Webs of Fate lives up to standard set by the previous novels in the series. It is now in the hands of the reviewers, and I hope that it fares well. In the meantime, I will continue work on Unpredictable Webs and continue to take my daily walk on the beach and enjoy the company of my wonderful husband, Jack. Yet in the back of my mind, Webs of Fate and its fate will be ever-present.

 

How do you deal with the waiting game while waiting for feedback on your work?

Building Real Connections with Real People

Social Media seems to be the rage right now. As authors, we are getting online and tuning in to what readers want and learning through each other how to improve our writing and create a “Brand” for ourselves. But how do we balance the “brand” with the reality of who we are and what we are trying to accomplish? Balance between being “real” and being a “brand” is difficult if we don’t take care to brand ourselves correctly.

Spending time paying attention to something other than our writing may not be something we want to do; let’s face it – we want to write, and sometimes taking time out to socialize can be hard to do. It can take hours at a time away from our writing. It is time well invested, in my opinion. Getting to know my readers and so many other writers has taught me a lot of valuable lessons that I can incorporate into my writing. I try to find relevant articles and information to share, but a lot of the time, I find myself learning from something that someone else posted and having that “aha!” moment when something I have been struggling with sinks in. I find that I have a lot more in common with the people I am connecting with besides just what I like to write and what I like to read. I joined writing groups to meet other authors and to learn and share and have found that instead of just giving and receiving information, I have made actual friends through these groups; friends with whom I connect in other groups as well. My purpose in joining the groups was to learn and to give something back; share my experiences while writing and publishing my books and perhaps help someone who is struggling with the same experiences I struggle/d with. What I have found is more valuable than just learning and giving back – I found new friends.

Finding common ground with others is an important way of connecting with other people…and if they happen to want to read my book, well, the more the merrier. But it’s that connection that is important. I am more apt to read a book written by someone I feel I know and with whom I feel I have a connection than I am some person who contacts me on Facebook and tells me he/she has a new book coming out and I should read it. Being connected means not being a “Me, Me, Me” person. Yes, I have a book coming out and I am very proud of it; and yes, I would love to shout it from the rooftops and ask everyone to buy it…but that’s not connecting. That is advertising and pushing my product down people’s throats. I would rather have 5 readers with whom I am connected who truly want to read my book than have 1500 people I am connected to who I ask to read it, but who have no idea who I am. How many of those connections (strangers) will really care that I have a new book coming out? How many will actually buy my book?

The need to connect with people is a human condition. The days of the reclusive author are over. People want to know about the author whose books they are reading. They want to know that we are real people, with real families and real concerns. Does everyone on my friends’ list care that I am remodeling my home? Probably not; but it I share it not to draw them in, but to connect with someone. Inevitably, someone on my list has gone through something similar and can sympathize or offer advice as to ways to deal with it. That’s a connection; that is someone I can have a conversation with, and that is someone who I can tell about my new book, because that is someone I have come to know or who has come to know me.

So how do we connect with these “virtual” strangers? Finding a common ground to talk about is the best way I have found to build a connection with a new friend. Is there someone in my newsfeed who is changing careers and looking for some advice, sympathy or encouragement? That is a person I can relate to and offer my advice or encouragement as it is something I have done myself; it is a connecting force in our lives. Is there someone on one of my friends’ walls who loves shopping, reading mystery novels or walking on the beach? There’s a connection and a possible new friend.

Branding ourselves is more than just collecting friends and trying to get people to read our books; it is about building friendships and giving as well as receiving.

I have found that writers tend to be some of the most caring and giving people on our planet. I am a great believer in sharing what I have learned over the bumpy road to publication. Helping others avoid some of the pitfalls is extremely rewarding. Major caution: Time management is essential. We must keep our mission and obligation foremost in our minds. In fiction it is to produce a compelling story, in nonfiction we must provide our readers with valuable content– never short-changing our readers. Therefore, we are honor bound to continue to give our best, knowing that with each new novel or book the bar is raised. By keeping our priorities is perspective, limiting the time we invest in blogging and social media is essential.

How do you use social media?  How do you make new friends?